Concord’s former dump could soon be at center of a battle between a conservation group looking to protect Walden Woods, and school district officials searching for land for a new bus depot that would include a maintenance facility and fueling station.
The issue could come to a head at Town Meeting in April as both groups are preparing warrant articles related to using portions of the capped landfill.
The Lincoln-based Walden Woods Project wants to purchase a conservation restriction from the town that would limit use of the land once studied by Henry David Thoreau. Meanwhile, the Concord Public School Committee says the site, off Walden Street (Route 126) near its intersection with Route 2, could allow the town to keep its popular transportation system in-house.
“That is the site we think is the best choice and the site we are pursuing,’’ said Maureen Spada, chairwoman of the Concord Public School Committee, which recently voted to spend $50,000 on a feasibility study for the landfill property. Also, the committee voted Tuesday to approve a warrant article proposing to use $950,000 from the school district’s capital reserve fund to “develop transportation infrastructure.’’
The school system needs a new transportation facility because the old one will be demolished early next year to make way for the new Concord-Carlisle Regional High School.
School administration officials last year considered outsourcing bus services but held off after the suggestion was greeted by an outcry from parents citing safety concerns. The current transportation operation consists of about 35 buses and drivers, three mechanics, three administrators, a repair and maintenance building, a parking area, an administration building, and a fuel storage and pumping facility.
Spada said a special advisory committee spent the summer investigating options for the replacement facility, and after looking at 20 possible locations settled on the landfill as the best alternative.
“The reason it’s particularly attractive is the town owns the land, so we don’t have to pay for a separate piece of land,’’ she said.
Kathi Anderson, executive director of the Walden Woods Project, said her organization has been working with the town since last year to set up a conservation restriction on the property. She said there is more urgency now given the School Committee’s interest in it.
“The bus depot is not something that would be able to go on the landfill site under a conservation restriction,’’ Anderson said. “We just feel that it’s a very inappropriate location for such a heavy use. It’s right on the border of the Walden Woods state park. It would severely undermine the historic and ecological integrity of the whole area, not to mention the traffic impact on an already congested Route 126.’’
Anderson said she has been working with the Board of Selectmen to draft a warrant article for Town Meeting. Under the proposal, which has not been finalized, the Walden Woods Project would pay the town between $2.6 million and $3 million for a conservation restriction that would limit uses on the 35-acre parcel. The town’s Public Works Department could continue to use about 8 acres of the property for leaf composting, and the town would still be able to pursue using several acres for solar panels.
Anderson said it is a key site in terms of conservation because of the role it played in Thoreau’s life. She said Thoreau used to walk the land and studied forest succession, a precursor to modern-day ecology.
“The important thing to remember is this is an internationally significant site,’’ Anderson said. “People come here from around the world because this is where the whole idea of conservation began. It would be tragically ironic if this area was lost from conservation.’’
The Walden Woods Project, founded by musician Don Henley in 1990, is a nonprofit organization committed to preserving the land, literature, and legacy of Thoreau through conservation, education, research, and advocacy.
Anderson said the organization’s interest in the former landfill dates to the early 1990s, and is its top conservation priority given its proximity to Walden Pond and the Thoreau cabin site.
Anderson said this is not the first use proposed for the site that the Walden Woods Project believes is inappropriate. Other ideas have included a cell tower and athletic fields.
“I don’t think this is what . . . Concord ought to be embracing,’’ she said. “The town has an opportunity to demonstrate what I believe to be a real solid commitment to conservation, and to show the world this is an area they value.”
Spada said the landfill has several advantages for the bus depot. She said it would allow the town to keep transportation services in-house yet it would be removed from pedestrian traffic and student drivers. She said it also provides a place away from residential or school properties, so that students, teachers, and neighbors are not breathing in fumes.
“We will investigate planting trees at the landfill to replace any removed for the depot, and to create a natural fence to provide a visual barrier so that visitors to Walden Pond will not see the depot,’’ she said.
Town officials said they are aware of the competing warrant articles. Selectman Jeffrey Wieand said he has been working with the Walden Woods Project on its warrant article, and noted the deadline to submit articles for next spring’s Town Meeting is Jan. 2.
Town Manager Chris Whelan said local officials are working with a company to lease several acres of the landfill for power-generating solar panels. He said the plan would go forward regardless of what happens with the conservation restriction or bus depot.